Custom Car Chronicle
Memo Ortega Files

Memo Ortega Stories Part Nine


It’s the late 1950’s, Memo ’51 Chevy get new paint job by Gil Ayala, and he decides to buy Gil’s old ’46 Ford Coupe and another Oldsmobile!

[box_light]Memo Ortega is a well known name in the SoCal Custom Car and LowRider Scene, but perhaps not as well known as it should be. Memo has been working on custom cars and Low Riders since the early 1950’s. He became good friends with Custom Car Icon Gil Ayala, and in the late 1950’s he even bought Gil’s famous 1942-46 Ford Coupe as a persona driver. Today, 80 years young, Memo is still chopping tops, and any other custom car work you can think of from, his garage work-shop. Check out more of the¬†Memo Ortega Stories¬†in the Memo Ortega Files on the CCC[/box_light]
By Memo Ortega

On may 4, 2013 Memo wrote this in an email to me.¬†Yesterday Big Joe asked me to go to the old Matt Kolberts body shop. He¬†knows the new owner there,¬†and Joe had told him that I¬†worked there in the ’50,s. The new owner¬†did¬†not¬†believe Joe,¬†so when we went I¬†took my book with photos to show him. He still did not belive it, until he saw the photo of my silver ’51 Chevy, with the white scallops parked in front of the spray booth. The spray booth was still there and it still has those same louvers on there for the vents. The guy then became so excited, that he even called his daughter from the office to come and check out the photos. He is¬†about the third owner since Kolbert and has been there since 1979, its now called Congoras. He did not know his shop was a Custom Shop back in the 50,s. He was so fired up that he called his workers to show them the photos. Joe said “I told you”. He said this is history. The place has changed a put over the years. Some remodeling around the shop, its bigger now. The spray booth was modernized a little, theres a window between the booth and the shop. I used to have a spot on the wall there for hanging a lot of photos. The old shop where we did our work is still the same, but all cleaned out. The two little rental houses are gone. The new owner knew nothing of all that… LOL. He sure was surprised I knew so much about the shop.
I just wanted to share this great experience.. and it fits nicely with the story line we are telling here.

CCC-memo-0rtega-part-nine-06-wOne of the two photo books I have that I took to Congoras shop, the new owner in the old Kolberts shop. When he saw the photo of my ’51 Chevy in Silver in front of the paint-booth doors he started to believe my story.
Let me tell you about Big Joe, and how he got me to go back to the old Kolbert’s shop.
Back in the ’50’s Big Joe and friends Bob Modreger, Eddie¬†Bobs brother and Gary used to come by Kolberts after school on there Schwinn¬†bikes. They were about 7…or 8 yrs old, they were our biggest fans.¬†They come by, checking out our custom work an candy paints.¬†Now all those years latter,¬†I¬†had not seen Bob or Joe from our bikeing days in the late 60’s (we get to that in another story). When Car Kulture mag did a spread on my Vondolero (means wonderer in english), Bob Modreger shows up at¬†my house, nocks on the door asks¬†my grand daughter Angie, “is memo there”. She tells him, “no hes up the street, ill call him”. I got her call, “who is it?¬†Ask him his name!”, “Its Bob Modreger”, I¬†told her don’t let him go!¬†Tie him, if u have to! In the mean time Bob told Angie the reason he had not been over to see me all these years, cuase he was afraid he would nock the door, and somebody would tell him I¬†was gone.¬†He sure was happy to know I¬†was still here, and even better, doing custom work.

If not for the mag article mentioning my name, he would think I¬†was long gone.¬†Well get this, Joe seen the mag with me in it, and went to Bob’s house, same house his lived all his live, just up the street from Kolberts¬†shop. Joe asked Bob is this the same Memo that worked at Kolberts Custom Shop? “Yeah thats him”, Bob said.¬†After that¬†Big Joe took me to Congoras (the current¬†owner¬†in Kolberts old shop) to show David Congora the album mentioned above.¬†So now Big Joe and me¬†comunicate every week. This is also¬†how the Memo Ortega Annual Car Show got started.¬†With Big Joe an David Congora and the city of Pomona Down Town Kiwanis Cub.


My ’51 Chevy Hard-Top at the Ayalas

I had the Ayala’s french in a set of 1954 packard tail lite lenses. They modified the rear fenders and the new Packard taillights flowed really well with the back of the car. I had modified a set of ’51 Mercury fender skirts and those with the new tail lites looked so good. In the front they moulded in a ’53 Chevy grill shell, rounded out the hood corners and peaked the hood. I also had them french the head lites with ’53 merc bezels. After that I did all the prep work on the car and then had Gil spray the car in a very rich titian red. I had told Gil I was going to buff out the car myself, because I was going to add some scallops or flames before buffing the car. I took the car back to the Kolbert shop to finish the work.

CCC-memo-0rtega-part-nine-13-wMemo with his ’51 Chevy partly in primer after the Ayala’s had done most of the work on the car. Sadly parts of the photo was torn off at some point.
CCC-memo-0rtega-part-nine-10-wMy sister Mary with my Chevy in 1957. Look how great the front end looked on my car. 
The following days I added my own style of flames. Me and Jhonny mixed some bronze and copper colored powders in a clear base. It came out a good combination and created a really fine color. I buffed out the car to a high luster, and had this guy Allen from Upland stripe my flames.¬†All I had left to do was make my own center grill bar. I used two ’53 Merc bumper guard¬†bullets¬†for the ends an a ’54 Chevy center grill bar with ’54 Chevy grill teeth. My boss gave me a thubs up, which made me feel real good. We cruzed over to the Ayala’s to show them the car all done. They realy liked the color combination of the car with the bronze-copper flames an the grill.

CCC-memo-0rtega-part-nine-05-wThere is one movie made at the¬†Coachmen show in either¬†’57 or ’58, and it shows Memo’s car as well as Memo’s Friend Joe’s blue four door. This movie still is the only color image there is of Memo’s 51 Chevy.
CCC-memo-0rtega-part-nine-07-wA blurry snapshot at the same¬†Coachmen show, shows Memo’s Chevy from the back. Hard to see the ’54 Packard taillights installed by the Ayala’s. Joe’s ’50 Chevy Four door is on the left.
CCC-memo-0rtega-part-nine-15-wThis one shows Joe’s Chevy a bit better. Notice that all door handles were removed. Memo’s Chevy is in the background.
CCC-memo-0rtega-part-nine-08-wMe with my ’51 Chevy at the¬†Coachmen show, photo is marked 1958.
CCC-memo-0rtega-part-nine-09-wEnlargement to show the car a bit better, notice the abstract flames.
We are in 1958 and we are having a blast crusin all over to shows in Long Beach, Norwalk, Downey, Bellflower, you name it. One of our favored shows to go to, was the Long Beach Veterans Stadium. At nite the candy’s an metal flakes realy stood out in the spot lites. Jhonny with his ’51 coupe and me with my ’51 Hard-Top, Joe from La Puente with his dark blue 4.dr, were living it up. Jhonny was the only one that allways had a camera. He had tons of photos from all these shows, but years latter his garage at home burned down including a chopped top ’54 Chevy Hard-Top he was building and all his photos. How sad!!! Our cars never really made the mags, a picture here an there that was about it. My favored crusin song in this time, The Belmonts with I wonder why


CCC-memo-0rtega-part-nine-04-wMemo’s Chevy made it in the May, 1958 issue of Custom Cars Magazine, not a full feature, just in an article about grilles.
Jhonny decided hes going to do more custom work to his ’51, to change its looks. He got a pair of brand new ’58 Packard quad head lites for his 51 coupe. We canted the quad lites an added a new grille made from wire mesh with a bunch of round chrome cabanet door handles. It sure made the front end look good along with the ’55 Pontiac front split bumpers. He decided to repaint the whole car and not spot in the front end. So we painted it candy blue. He never entered the car in shows, but he was always there with his camera. Thats the way the car stayed. After I had entered my ’51 Chevy in titian redo in the Coachmen show and a few other shows around the long beach an bellflower area in 1958 I decided to repaint the car. This time I choose a¬†silver and detailed it with white scallops with green tips.

CCC-memo-0rtega-part-nine-11-wMy ’51 Chevy with the new silver paint job with white scallops and green tops. This photo was taken at the Kolberts shop. The wall behind it is the old paint booth with the vents for fresh air.

Another Olds…

Its 1959 we were still crusin Whittier Blvd in East Los Angeles and Norwalk Ca. I still had the Oldsmobile blues… so I decided to trade or sell my ’51 Chevy, after all that work, but that was me,. Crazy as it sounds, I got me a nice ’53 olds again. Me and jhonny filled in the trunk an hood, gave it a lime green paint job an scallopped the car in white with pearl on the last coats. I added Appletons and ripple chrome side pipes. Our boss Kolbert, he was a good man, it did not matter to him what we did in the shop after work, as long as we cleaned up where we worked, me an jhonny were realy good an fast at working on cars, we did not mess around,. I guess thats why he kept us lol.

CCC-memo-0rtega-part-nine-12-wMy ’53 Oldsmobile… after I had it for a while in lime green and pearl white scallops I decided to add ’53 Buick headlights with custom made eye-brows. One side is done and in primer. I liked the look, so the other side would follow soon.
CCC-memo-0rtega-part-nine-14-wI really loved this Olds, the outline paint job worked really well on this car. Hard to see in these photos, but the center of the top had the strips of chrome tape. 
We cruised over to the Ayala’s in East Los Angeles on a sat, afternoon. Gil allways took time to talk with me, when I got there he was busy dismantiling a bumper for chroming. We got to talking about how everything was going around the shop. It’s been going good he used to tell me we are allways busy. Thats good, I used to tell him. I had my eyes on his old car, his famous 1942-46 Ford coupe for awhile and I asked him what was he going to do whth his car. He said I don’t know. I started working on head lites and I just stopped. I was going to redo it completely, but I’am to busy… no time for it. I asked him if it was possible that I could buy his car… “to you… yeahGil said. I know you will fix it an get it on the road. More on Gil’s Ford later in this article…

So now that we agreed on a price for Gil’s Ford, I had to figure a way to come up with the money. I really did not want to sell my ’53 Olds that me an Jhonny had just done. It was ether getting Gils ford, or not selling my olds. I knew this guy that wanted to trade me his cherry ’50 Chevy Coupe and some money for my Olds. I got ahold of the guy, and told him He could trade the Olds for his ’50 Chevy, if he came up with a little more money, than he had said.If not, then I was was going to sell the car right away. He told me don’t sell it, I want it. I was a wheeler dealer back then. Now I got Gil’s car, and had an very nice ’50 Chevy coupe. I sold the ’50 Chevy right away and got me another Olds for it. Sounds crazy but like I said before, thats what I was doing back then.


CCC-memo-0rtega-part-nine-01-wA drawing of the 42-46 Ford that Memo made was used by Teen Angle in one of his article. Here we can see it with two old photos of the car when Gil Ayala owned it.
I took Gil’s Ford home and started to work on it right away. Gil had started working on the dual headlights, but never finished them. First, I¬†finished the head-lights, then I removed all the chrome, and had it re-painted. The Custom body work Gil had done was really fabulous! The top had been chopped and the wheel wells had been slanted and all the body seams had been molded in and smoothed off. The door handles had been removed and the holes filled in. The fenders and gravel pans had been molded to the body, the grille cavity was custom made and the tail lights had been frenched into the body. The car had my favorite bumpers, the ‚Äė49 Plymouth ‚Äúthree Ribbed‚ÄĚ style. Next I installed the dual custom antennas on the front fenders. The interior had the famous ‚ÄúTuck-n-Roll‚ÄĚ and the car was custom lowered by going down over the driveshaft… channeled. Next I prepared the car for paint and painted it a beautiful royal blue bonito. I used to have a lot of fun cruising around in this carrucha. Later on, I sold it.

CCC-gil-ayala-42-ford-10-wThis is how the Gil Ayala’s old Ford¬†looked after Memo had finished it. Memo thinks the headlights were ’58 Ford units, but could not remember for sure. This photo was taken some time after Memo had sold the car.
Man I really wish I knew where this car is today!


Go to part TEN.
Go to part EIGHT.






Rik Hoving

Rik is the CCC editor in chief. As a custom car historian he is researching custom car history for many years. In 2004 he started the Custom Car Photo Archive that has become a place of joy for many custom car enthousiasts. Here at CCC Rik will bring you inspiring articles on the history of custom cars and builders. Like a true photo detective he will show us what's going on in all those amazing photos. He will write stories about everything you want to know in the realm of customizing. In daily life Rik is a Graphic Designer. He is married to the CCC webmaster and the father of a 10 year old son (they are both very happy with his excellent cooking skills)

4 thoughts on “Memo Ortega Stories Part Nine

  • rik thanks for doing a super story brings back a lot of memories from days gone by awesome you out did youself again memo,

  • Man those old photos are bad ass, car show on the high school football field drive them in drive them out , no trailer queens ! And that ford looks mean with the quad lights. Thanks rik storie 9 worth the wait !
    El jeffe

  • thanks jeff for likeing riks stories on the ccc, allso at the norwalk show parked next to me on my right is jacksons t bird an behind him is carrol lewis 56 chevy that jeffries did, that was an awesome show,

  • The story had my full attention from the first word to the last word a very interesting story from the glory days of customs. Hope the car is out there somewhere and turns up to take center stage again.

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